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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Fear of Flying

Somewhat later than the in-crowd, I recently read Malcolm Gladwell's 'Outliers'. The book (for those that don't know) is a really interesting study of success, filled with vignettes that highlight the deeper stories behind individual successes.

One chapter sticks out though, a study of plane crashes that argues on how cultural background has a profound relationship to accidents. Gladwell looks at something called the 'Power Distance Index' and describes how this means that the crew subordinate to the captain have difficulty in warning him or her of any incipient danger. Most accidents happen from a sequence of minor mishaps escalating into a major catastrophe.

The transcripts to two of the crashes Gladwell refers to are heartbreaking, listening to the attempts of the crew to warn the captain of their situations. The inability to communicate clearly the danger seems to be related to deference, whether it be cultural, national or for whatever reason.

But what is this to do with a history of emotions?

This transcripts are also interesting from an emotional point of view in the sense that it appears a fear of authority is overwhelming the fear of death, which sounds quite astonishing but perhaps isn't when one considers this may also be a strong theme in a military environment. Gladwell's argument also suggests this is the case in countries where there are very hierarchical social structures which lead to a high Power Distance Index. If you asked me I would have imagined we'd all fear death far more than we'd fear the irritation or even wrath of our boss. I'm not saying it was a straight choice in those cockpits but as the problems escalated and the seriousness became more evident, death was becoming a more realistic possibility.

In a strange way it's useful reminder of where our emotional priorities are not what we might expect of them and how they might be influenced indirectly by national culture. Does it suggest high power distance indexes equals a bad thing? That is another question, as a hierarchy may have value for a culture in other ways. But that it shapes our emotions and in particular our fears in some disturbing ways appears clear.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

different emotions

From wikipedia, some of these may be familiar, others not so...
  • Abhiman is an Indian term best described as a feeling of prideful loving anger.
  • Sukhi is an Indian term similar to peace and happiness.
  • Fureai: Fureai is a Japanese term used when feeling a sense of connectedness to someone else.
  • Rettokan is a Japanese term that means to feel inferior
  • Schadenfreude is a German term defined by German philosopher Theodor Adorno as "the largely unanticipated delight in the suffering of another which is cognized as trivial and/or appropriate".
Any others spring to mind?